Fraud. Tax evasion. Financial violations. Failure to disclose. Perjury. Obstructing a criminal investigation. Conspiring with a foreign power.
Who are you thinking about when you read those words?
As words and phrases, they are simply legal terms, crimes and misdemeanours of various levels of severity. It's human nature, however, to make connections between people, between events and between words and phrases. So, regardless of whether you see U.S. President Donald Trump as the greatest world leader of all time, the worst human being imaginable or somewhere in between, if you've been following American political news in even the slightest way, you likely read those legal terms and thought of Trump.
If you're a Trump supporter, those legal issues are fabricated nonsense. He's innocent until proven innocent.
If you're opposed to Trump and believe he should be immediately transferred from the White House to the big house, he's guilty until proven guilty.
Despite being opposite opinions, their basis is identical in that the word "proven" is irrelevant. There is no proof that will deter those who proclaim his innocence or those convinced of his guilt.
For Trump supporters, the only question worth asking is: "what information would it take to convince you that some or all of the allegations against him are true?" For Trump opponents, the only question worth asking is: "what information would it take to convince you that some or all of the allegations against him are false?"
There are actually very few people on either side who would answer "nothing" because to do so would appear foolishly close-minded. For too many on both sides, however, the answer given is "yes, but Obama and the Clintons..." or "yes, but Robert Mueller and Stormy Daniels..." In other words, the answer is still "nothing" because whatever information would surface, it will be explained away by details already known. And it doesn't actually answer the question, which really amounts to "what would it take for you to change your mind about Trump?"
Pulling back from Trump, the broader question to ask ourselves and those around us, particularly the ones who hold opposing views on any issue, is: "what would it take to change your mind?"
The problem is changing one's mind comes with social costs. Society frowns on those who don't stand by their beliefs, portraying them as weak-kneed flip-floppers. Depending on the people and the issue, it can destroy friendships, although it can also create new ones. CNN's Don Lemon played video on his show this week of Republican senators and current Trump administration officials who were badmouthing Trump in 2015 and 2016, as if to reveal the two-faced nature of these individuals.
Lemon and other broadcasters constantly showcase former Trump supporters who have seen the error of their ways and repented. Or seen from the other side of the political divide, it's easy to find video of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton bashing each other in 2007 and early 2008, during the Democratic nomination race, and then heaping praise on each other two years later, when Obama was president and she became secretary of state.
Yes, changing one's mind can simply be a cynical exercise by amoral individuals in following whichever way the wind is blowing for profit and power. More often than not, however, it is an act of courage rooted in the realization that the view was wrong, in whole or part.
Furthermore, there are times when it's prudent to start with a presumption of guilt and work backwards towards a greater understanding.
Innocent until proven guilty is the rightful approach in most everyday circumstances and the one taken on criminal matters, because it demands a high standard of proving the charges brought forward on behalf of the government (the Crown, as we say in Canada) against an individual.
Yet innocent until proven guilty doesn't always work and there are times when it can even be dangerous. In cases where a powerful individual is facing allegations of wrongdoing and could do significant harm to their accusers or influence the outcome of the investigation, guilty until proven innocent is better. In workplaces, for example, that often involves a paid suspension or a buyout if one or both sides feel trust has been irreparably harmed.
Innocent until proven guilty and guilty until proven innocent can even be used together. Sending a company's chief financial officer on an unscheduled paid holiday while RCMP auditors examine the company's books for evidence of fraud and embezzlement is right on both counts.
In the interim, some people will feel the CFO has been wrongfully accused and others will feel he or she has been caught redhanded.
What will it take to change their minds?
-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout